Pope goes pop on Francis' debut album

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Pope Francis is driven through the crowd in his popemobile in St. Peter’s Square for his inauguration Mass at the Vatican, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Since its inception in the first century, the Catholic Church helped shape Western civilization with its strict belief system, political influence and even a series of album releases. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI explored modern music with their own projects to limited success. Pope Francis looks to change that with his debut record Wake Up!.

The album, released Friday, feels all too fitting for the most liberal pope in recent history. The 78-year-old Argentina native is also one of the most recognizable figures in the world — his massive popularity easily trumps that of other mainstream artists such as Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber.

Although the album bears the pope’s name, he never actually entered a studio to record his vocals for Wake Up!. Instead, Don Giulio Neroni and Tony Pagliuca, the same team that helped with John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s albums, selected portions of speeches, prayers and masses Francis gave from March 2013 to January 2015. Then, they tacked on the selected sound bites onto progressive/pop-rock recordings and common hymns in multiple languages.

Although it would have been interesting to hear the pope sing, his speeches convey more than his singing could. The 78-year-old Argentinian grew up surrounded by the Catholic Church’s teachings of generosity and kindness. These two elements are key staples in Francis’ speeches as he attempts to bring hope to the hopeless and comfort for those in need.

Comparing the pope’s debut album to other releases might seem futile, but Wake Up! isn’t just some aimless effort. A legitimate music PR firm promoted Wake Up!, and the album’s lead single “Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward” already has over 800,000 plays on SoundCloud. 

The only English song on the record is the album’s lead single “Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!,” recorded during a speech given to South Korean children in August 2014. This is easily the album’s most rock-oriented song, with ascending piano chords, electric guitar and an organ all taking center stage during the minute and a half introduction. As the pope begins to speak, a heroic trumpet kicks in. Even though Wake Up! was advertised as a prog rock project, it’s initially alarming to hear the pope’s voice on top of the background music — yet oddly comforting after a couple of minutes.

The worst moment of the album comes during its second single “Por Qué Sufren los Niños?” or “Why Do Children Suffer?” Compared to the invigorating experience that is “Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!,” this track has almost no energy or catchy hooks to make it the next big papal hit. 

Although this release might be targeted at all members of the Church, two very specific audiences will enjoy this album — Catholics looking for a gift for Christmas and music nerds that enjoy fishing through milk crates to find rare and obscure releases.

The harsh reality is that Pope Francis doesn’t have a future in today’s music world. On the brighter side of things, he probably wasn’t betting on the success of this album to launch his career. There aren’t any songs on Wake Up! that will convince teens to stop listening to “Hotline Bling” and convert to the Pope’s heavenly preaching, but there’s good chance a sample from this album could pop up in someone’s future mixtape.

Wake Up!

  • Genre: Progressive/Pop Rock
  • Tracks: 11
  • Rating: 2/5